Posts

Onemorefortheroad sparks Newbury celebrations for King

Onemorefortheroad had plenty of bookmakers raising their glasses after the Ladbrokes Committed to Safer Gambling Intermediate Hurdle, as the 8-1 outsider of four scooted to a two-and-a-half-length success at Newbury.

With odds-on top-weight Soaring Glory failing to fire in the four-runner Listed contest, the Neil King-trained six-year-old took advantage of a 16lb pull in the weights to follow up his recent all-the-way win at Huntingdon in similar fashion.

King said: “I am just really pleased. We have always thought the world of him.

“He won his bumper first time out last year and last season my horses were badly out of form and when I ran him over hurdles, I was so disappointed he was beaten the first twice as I knew the horse was better than that. I gave him a break and he came back and won his races.

Jack Quinlan after ridding Onemorefortheroad
Jack Quinlan after ridding Onemorefortheroad (Steven Paston/PA)

“His homework was so good. He was the only horse who could go with Lil Rockerfeller when we had him and he has done nothing wrong this season. We started him off in a novice because he wasn’t the bravest. We got him in a novice at Stratford and Bryony (Frost) gave him a great ride there, and at Huntingdon we had to do the donkey-work again. We didn’t want to make the running.

“He will be a better horse in a faster-run race when we can come from behind with him.

“If the ground stays dry and that, to a degree, is important to him, I would like to run in the big handicap at Ascot just before Christmas – the Betfair two-miler – and I think more of a stamina test will help him again. You wouldn’t want traditional winter ground. But we’ve had three wet winters, and this is a dry one, so I hope for him that the ball keeps rolling.

“The way the owners party afterwards, he could not be a better-named horse!”

Elle Est Belle (left) took Listed honours
Elle Est Belle (left) took Listed honours (Steven Paston/PA)

Elle Est Belle recouped losses for an odds-on defeat on her jumping debut to take the Listed honours in the Ladbrokes Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Dan Skelton’s five-year-old was only third over this extended two miles that day behind Nina The Terrier and Ahorsewithnoname and turned the tables on the pair.

Nina The Terrier fell at the final flight when holding every chance and Ahorsewithnoname was still just in front after taking it up after the third last, but Elle Est Belle (2-1) looked to be going best and went on to score by eight and a half lengths in the hands of Harry Skelton.

Skelton said: “She needed the run the first day and she really shocked me, because last year she was a really buzzy horse. Last year, you were almost like ‘slow down, there’s no rush’, and then actually she has come back in and she has appreciated that we have dropped her in in her races and she was a bit too relaxed in her early training.

“She needed the run and there is no shame in that. She has improved and she was going away at the line. I was quite optimistic she would turn it around and that we would improve an awful lot.

“She will get two and a half miles, but there is no need to press, press, press. There is no immediate plan. I think we will train her towards the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, but that will be a bit ground dependent, but I wouldn’t want her to be going there on quicker ground.”

Kapcorse initiated a Nicholls double
Kapcorse initiated a Nicholls double (Steven Paston/PA)

Sir Peter O’Sullevan was the doyen of commentators and it was fitting to see his silks again carried to victory in the race named in his honour – the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Steeple Chase – by Kapcorse (13-2).

The black silks with yellow crossbelts, carried famously by the likes of Attivo, were bequeathed to great friend JP McManus upon O’Sullevan’s death in 2015 and three sported the colours on this occasion, with Kapcorse, the mount of Harry Cobden, prevailing by five and a half lengths.

The strapping son of Kapgarde has had just three starts since taking this race in 2018, having suffered minor niggling problems.

With Nicholls absent due to illness, assistant trainer Harry Derham, said: “He has not been a very easy horse to train, hence the massive absence in his career.

“On his day, he is a very talented horse. When he is right, he is very good, but he is just not easy to train. He has had little problems, but to be fair, Mr McManus has been very patient with him and you can see today why you would bother to be patient.

“Where we will go next, I don’t know. This was the aim, because it was Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s race. AP McCoy rode him in work last Tuesday and got off him and said ‘he’ll win next week’, so he obviously knows a good horse when he sees one!

“To be fair, after that, we did have confidence because every day with him, you hope things go right, because, as you can see, he is enormous and it has just taken him a while to get him right, but he is a very talented horse. Today was the plan, so we will make another one now.”

Il Ridoto (4-1 co-favourite) gave the Nicholls yard and Cobden a double on the car in the concluding Watch Racing Free Online at Ladbrokes Handicap Chase.

Earlofthecotswolds (right) was a winner for Sam Twiston-Davies
Earlofthecotswolds (right) was a winner for Sam Twiston-Davies (Steven Paston/PA)

Earlofthecotswolds had capitalised on a lenient mark at Wetherby a fortnight ago and a 7lb rise failed to halt his progress, as the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained seven-year-old followed up in the Get Your Ladbrokes £1 Free Bet Today Handicap Hurdle in the hands of his son, Sam Twiston-Davies.

The winning trainer said: “It is smashing. We didn’t think we’d win because the ground had gone a bit soft, but he did it nicely.

“The ground was a little bit of a worry. He is a handicapper and that is what we are looking at with him. He is no better than that and he can always go over fences again one day.

“There is nothing else for him at present. Another handicap after Christmas is probably what we are looking at.”

Elle Est Belle lands Listed honours

Elle Est Belle recouped losses for an odds-on defeat on her jumping debut to take the Listed honours in the Ladbrokes Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.

Dan Skelton’s five-year-old was only third over this extended two miles that day behind Nina The Terrier and Ahorsewithnoname and turned the tables on the pair.

Nina The Terrier fell at the final flight when holding every chance and Ahorsewithnoname was still just in front after taking it up after the third last, but Elle Est Belle (2-1) looked to be going best.

With Nina The Terrier out, Elle Est Belle powered past the leader to score by eight and a half lengths in the hands of Harry Skelton.

Skelton said: “She needed the run the first day and she really shocked me, because last year she was a really buzzy horse. Last year, you were almost like ‘slow down, there’s no rush’, and then actually she has come back in and she has appreciated that we have dropped her in in her races and she was a bit too relaxed in her early training.

“She needed the run and there is no shame in that. She has improved and she was going away at the line. I was quite optimistic she would turn it around and that we would improve an awful lot.

“She will get two and a half miles, but there is no need to press, press, press. There is no immediate plan. I think we will train her towards the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, but that will be a bit ground dependent, but I wouldn’t want her to be going there on quicker ground.”

Faivoir proves famous winner for Dan Skelton

Dan Skelton celebrated his 1,000th success as a trainer as Faivoir triumphed in the Windsor Horse Rangers Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Ascot.

Skelton, who is famously the son of Olympic gold medal-winner showjumper Nick and brother to champion jockey Harry, brought up the landmark in less than 10 years, having only set up as a trainer in 2013.

The Alcester-based handler spent nine years learning his trade with multiple champion Paul Nicholls before striking out on his own – and Skelton remembered his former boss notching the same milestone back in 2004.

He said: “It’s magic. I remember when I worked for Paul and he had his 1,000th winner, it was a bumper I think, at Folkestone. I texted him ‘well done boss’ and he said ‘don’t worry about this thousand, worry about the next thousand’ and I’m thinking the same thing.”

Skelton’s first headline victory came via Willow’s Saviour in the 2013 Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot and the trainer reflected on that as a real starting point, but admitted he had not felt the same kind of urgency as when he was chasing 200 winners for the campaign in 2018-19.

He said: “We’ve had some good successes here, our first big success was here with Willow’s Saviour and that’s a day we’ll all never forget.

“A thousand is a big number, (but) I was more determined and aggressive, and desperate if you like, to get 200 in that season three years ago. That was my big ambition and that was a lot more pressure than a thousand.”

Clifford Baker, Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton (left to right) with Gold Cup winner Denman
Clifford Baker, Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton (left to right) with Gold Cup winner Denman (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Skelton recorded a total of 205 wins during that campaign, becoming just the second trainer after Martin Pipe to record a double century.

While his former mentor not yet achieved that feat – with his best total being 176 last term – Skelton is under no illusions as to the task in trying to wrestle away the trainers’ title from Nicholls.

He added: “You’ve got to keep trying. I think Paul’s a nap (for the title), he’s got those horses at the top end and we’re still creating those. I still think he’s the one for the trainers’ title. If we get past Christmas and there’s not much in it or we get past Cheltenham and there’s not much in it, it could get a bit tight, but I’m not thinking about it at the moment.”

Harry Skelton is stable jockey at the brothers’ Warwickshire yard and had his own 1,000 winner last month.

He was aboard Faivoir at Ascot and paid tribute to his sibling’s dedication and leadership, as well as his forward-planning.

He said: “Dan’s a great leader and he’s got a good team behind him. We all work together, but ultimately he’s the one who trains them and this is a great testament to him. You have to have the dedication and drive and that’s what he’s got.

“He’s done so well with so many (horses) that it’s hard to just put your finger on one. It’s obvious for everyone to see that he can pick a race from a long way out, plan it and pull it off.

Faivoir himself was registering his second win in three starts so far this term, seeing off favourite Torn And Frayed by three-quarters of a length.

Dan Skelton added: “He’s a bit of a monkey, if you ran him left-handed and there was a horse running right he’d probably follow.

“He’s one of those horse, he doesn’t win by too far, the handicapper doesn’t ever fully catch up with him because of that because he’s always holding a fiver up his sleeve.

“He’s just a little winning machine, he’s easy to train.”

My Drogo heading back to Cheltenham next month

My Drogo will bid to banish memories of his dramatic fencing bow when he returns to Cheltenham next month.

Trainer Dan Skelton has set his sights on the Jockey Club Cheltenham and SW Syndicate Novices’ Chase on December 11, after Mr Drogo exited two out in what proved an extraordinary match race at Prestbury Park on Friday.

My Drogo had just taken the lead at the penultimate fence, but slipped on landing and parted company with Harry Skelton – with Gin On Lime virtually sliding to a standstill at the same time and Rachael Blackmore somehow managing to stay aboard and go on to an incredible win.

Skelton felt his Grade One-winning hurdler was just unfortunate, and believes a Cheltenham return over the same two-and-a-half-mile distance is a logical move.

He told Racing TV: “I don’t think he actually lost anything in defeat. I think he jumped really well the rest of the way, learnt a lot on the way round – he was a bit brave at one ditch and a bit brave at a plain (fence), but ultimately he was good.

“He came hard on the bridle turning in and he’d have won. I wouldn’t say he’d enhanced his odds of being a Grade One victor in March by doing what he should have done, but he certainly didn’t underachieve I don’t think.

“He will definitely go back (to Cheltenham) in December. There’s the same race, two and a half miles and obviously the same start but different track.

“Why not go back there? I’ve no fears about the track for him, it’s one of those things that happens two out.”

Nube Negra was a big weekend winner for the Skeltons
Nube Negra was a big weekend winner for the Skeltons (Tim Goode/PA)

Meanwhile, Skelton has been backed again for a first trainers’ championship title.

William Hill spokesperson Rupert Adams said: “There seem to be few weekends when Dan Skelton isn’t among the winners and he looks a real threat in the trainers’ championship this year.

“He was 8-1 to win the title for the first time before the November meeting at Cheltenham, but after three big winners we now make him the 7-2 second-favourite behind Paul Nicholls at 1-2.”

Reflecting on his weekend winners – Third Time Lucki, Nube Negra and West Cork – Skelton told his Ladbrokes blog: “Third Time Lucki did what we hoped he would. Harry got the race in the bag three out and was cautious over the last two.

“I think I can actually have him better and he will head to Sandown now. If he doesn’t go there, then he will go to Kempton.

“On Sunday it was just a magical forty-five minutes. It was a bit of relief that Nube Negra did that and won the Shloer Chase. He was second in the Champion Chase and we wanted to confirm that promise.

“The elation of landing the Greatwood Hurdle with West Cork was fantastic. It was as much fun as you could have on a racecourse. Everyone was there and we had worked hard to get him right after 600 odd days off and it was just brilliant.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the whole team. The owners, whether they had a winner or loser, embraced the whole rollercoaster that was the weekend and I just feel very lucky to be doing what I do.

“It’s weekends like that, where there are ups and downs, that make it so special. Bring on next weekend!”

Monday Musings: Skeltonham

The 2021-22 jumps season – in a sort of foreplay since the end of April – began on Friday with three days’ intense action at Cheltenham, writes Tony Stafford.

The top five protagonists for the jump trainers’ championship, always supposing that Messrs Mullins, Elliott and De Bromhead do not intrude on a private domestic issue, have positioned themselves nicely for imminent take-off.
At this stage Fergal O’Brien leads the way with 72 wins and £622,548. Paul Nicholls is second on £561,628 from 60 winners.

Dan Skelton, boosted by the weekend, is on £531,752 from a modest 39 wins to date; Donald McCain has £466,295 from 65 and Nicky Henderson, well up to scratch with 50 wins, is lagging a little with £397,633 in prizes.

A couple of seasons ago, Dan and Harry Skelton, emboldened by the lavish support of their father Nick, Olympic show jumping gold medallist and icon of his primary sport for the best part of half a century, would have been the numerical summer pacesetters in the title race.

The trio knew that having a base in Warwickshire worthy of housing the best of bloodstock, would need a trigger to attract owners in a sport where they were accustomed to turning to Nicky Henderson or Paul Nicholls if they wanted their horses trained in the UK. The Skeltons needed numbers and the summer, with the best horses out at grass, was the time to put them on the board.

Even some of those two perennial champions’ owners had already gravitated to the better prizemoney and overwhelming superiority, talent- and numerical-wise of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott over in Ireland. It appears that the latter’s gauche blunder in being seen grinning and brandishing his phone to the camera astride a fallen horse on his gallops has been forgiven if not forgotten. Memories are long – practicalities are instantaneous.

The Skelton team has now clearly made it to the big league as their principal five challengers over the weekend emphasised. Meanwhile the mid-summer void has been comfortably filled by Fergal O’Brien, formerly assistant to Nigel Twiston-Davies and more recently a tenant of his.

The building of a new yard a few miles away enabled the breakaway from Twiston-Davies and was the catalyst for a major step forward last season when he broke 100 winners for the first time.

After two 60’s in a row, the next two campaigns realised 49 and 63 before 104 at 18% and £796k prizemoney in 2020-21.
Such has been the forward momentum that as we enter winter, O’Brien leads both winner and money categories. That reflects a 60k cushion, but Nicholls, Skelton and Henderson all have more obvious candidates for the very big pots which always define the season’s champions.

Fergal’s stable strength has been nicely augmented by the addition of around 60 horses that the BHA’s favoured barrister, Graeme McPherson QC, has bequeathed (not exactly, but you know what I mean!) to them. McPherson was more the money man than the day-to-day trainer, and graceful withdrawal from the licensee position in favour of giving it official satellite yard status is bound to have beneficial results.

Already several former McPherson horses have shown improved form since the merger and if Fergal intends maintaining his fast pace – 11 wins in the last fortnight – he needs the extra ammunition.

He stepped in with the Listed bumper winner Bonttay on the Saturday of the meeting and as she and stable-companion Leading Theatre led a big field up the hill you could imagine both being high-class jumpers further down the line, an opinion the trainer upheld with a snatched comment: “two lovely fillies” as he walked by. The stable seems to have a bigger proportion of fillies than any of their main rivals, but that merely confirms assistant and partner Sally Randell’s assertion that “they are cheaper to buy”.

Success attracts owners, as the Skeltons illustrate, and now new owners are flocking to the softly spoken Fergal. They had a new owner with them at the sale after racing on Friday and he came away with lot 1, Poetic Music, a debut winner of a Market Rasen bumper for John Butler, at £60,000. “She was our number one at the sale too. I’m delighted we got her”, Sally said.

Two-horse races rarely capture the attention of the racegoer, but Friday’s two-and-a-half mile novice chase in which fencing newcomer My Drogo, a brilliant unbeaten hurdler last winter for Dan Skelton, was meeting Henry de Bromhead’s four-time chase winner Gin On Lime.

The younger Gin On Lime, a mare, had penalties which should have ensured My Drogo’s favouritism and so it proved, the home runner 4-9 with 7-4 against Gin On Lime.

Then at the second-last fence, when Skelton was manoeuvring his mount to challenge on the stands side, he hit the fence hard and could not maintain the partnership. Meanwhile on the inside, Gin On Lime also blundered but as she started to sink to the floor Rachael Blackmore did a passable impression of all those rodeo tricks she must have seen in cowboy films and simply stayed glued to the saddle.

The mare recovered her equilibrium with Blackmore soon back in charge and they set off to the final obstacle which Gin On Line crossed with no further problems. Blackmore had been the darling of the last spectator-limited Cheltenham Festival and here, with the aid of her main supporter De Bromhead, was revealing a new sphere of excellence.

If day one was a major setback for the brothers Skelton, on Saturday the wheel of fortune turned with another spectacular run by Third Time Lucki, the first domestic candidate for the Arkle Chase and a welcome one with all that talent waiting to reveal itself on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Maybe it was a job only half done, but two exaggerated celebrations of Harry Skelton as he crossed the line in front twice in succession yesterday showed how much it all means to win at the home of steeplechasing. First he was in splendid isolation on the always-talented Nube Negra in the Schloer Chase and then the long-time absentee West Cork got the better of Adagio and No Ordinary Joe after a battle up the hill in a high-standard Greatwood Hurdle.

Winning big handicap hurdles with horses after a layoff has been part of the Dan Skelton DNA for some time and West Cork was a prime candidate for such a project. Absent since his second in the Dovecote Hurdle in February last year behind Highway One O Two, he had been dropped 5lb for that Grade 2 second place from the 139 he had earned by his easy defeat of a Nicky Henderson 1/3 shot at Huntingdon.

That generosity by the handicapper was the final piece in the puzzle for the stable whereas top-weight Adagio, only a four-year-old, had been assessed to the hilt on his form of last winter. The third horse No Ordinary Joe pulled hard from the outset yet was still there with a big shout starting up the hill. If Nicky can get this unexposed type to settle better there is no limit to the potential of J P McManus’ gelding.

Nube Negra’s victory, emphatically pegging back one previous Queen Mother Chase winner in Politologue and ending the hitherto unbeaten course record of Put The Kettle On, the reigning champion but one who was never going yesterday, was deeply impressive.

It certainly was not lost on the bookmakers, who promoted him to near the top of this season’s market on the two-mile championship, nor on the younger Skelton, who not satisfied merely with standing in the saddle and pointing to the crowd as they crossed the line, then sated his elation with a rapid-fire first pump. He might find it harder to peg back Brian Hughes this winter, but as he says, he has some great horses to ride.

Some jockeys win a championship and simply want more. Harry Skelton will take another one if it comes, but he’s not going to do the running around riding out and touting for rides on other people’s horses. Why would he with animals of the ability of those Cheltenham mounts?
- TS

West Cork just great in Greatwood on day to remember for Team Skelton

West Cork shrugged off a 631-day absence to fend off top-weight Adagio and land the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by his champion jockey brother Harry, West Cork had to dig deep in the Grade Three feature – but the 11-1 winner had enough in hand to take the £56,270 first prize.

No Ordinary Joe pulled his way to the front going past the winning post for the first time and he was still there as the field turned for home, although there appeared to be plenty in behind with their races still to run.

West Cork was one of those travelling well and when Skelton asked him he moved up to take the lead jumping the last before setting sail for home.

However, Adagio was just hitting top gear under his welter burden of 11st 12lb and he made a fight of it, challenging between West Cork and the game No Ordinary Joe, but West Cork just held on.

The Skeltons were celebrating a second high-profile winner on the day after Nube Negra lifted the Shloer Chase.

But the brothers had suffered some notable reverses with Protektorat narrowly beaten in Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup and leading chase hope My Drogo suffering a high-profile departure in a two-horse novice chase on Friday.

Skelton lost his whip on the way to victory, but still saluted the crowd as he passed the post.

He said: “At the last I gave him one smack and he gave the last a foot, I went to just pick it (whip) up and it caught the back of my knee, but he was always holding on. His ears were pricked and I knew I had a lot left in the tank.

“He’d been working very well at home, but I’m delighted. What a training performance.

“I’m a lucky boy to be riding for a fantastic team, led by a great leader in my brother.”

A jubilant Dan Skelton said: “That has to be my best ever hour on a racecourse.

“We only decided to bring this lad two or three weeks ago when we decided Nube Negra was running and we had nothing for the Greatwood.

“It was Harry who suggested this lad. He did a piece of work two weeks ago with Protektorat and then he did one last week with Nube Negra which was obviously a lot above 134. It was probably a hint running in a handicap after working with those two.

“I’m delighted for Mike Newbould. He’d been in racing 40 years and hadn’t had a Cheltenham winner, now he’s had two big ones at the November meeting and that is what it is all about, dreams.

“It’s just brilliant, that was one of the biggest thrills I’ve had on a racecourse, especially after Nube. You think you are due a come down – to stay up there an extra half an hour is magic.

“We’ll worry about what’s next when it comes to it. I’m just delighted.”

Nube Negra powers to brilliant Shloer Chase success

Nube Negra put down a marker in the two-mile chase division as he registered an impressive victory in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham.

Dan Skelton’s charge shot to prominence in beating Altior at Kempton over Christmas, but was half a length short in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March – delivering a power-packed finish, but just failing to catch Put The Kettle On.

That rival was in the field once again, but she was the first of the four runners to crack this time, as Politologue – himself a former two-mile champion – set out to make every yard of the running in the Grade Two feature.

Simply The Betts had attracted plenty of support before the race but he was the next to fold, leaving Harry Skelton firmly in charge as Nube Negra tanked down to the final two fences.

Having suffered a headline-grabbing exit from My Drogo in a two-runner novice chase on Friday, Skelton was in no mood for a repeat and once Nube Negra grabbed the lead, he fairly shot clear.

Politologue kept on for second with Put The Kettle On rallying up the hill to take third place.

Betfair make Nube Negra a 4-1 chance for next month’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, while the same firm cut him from 20-1 to 10s for the Champion Chase, a race for which Coral go 12-1.

Nube Negra (left) jumps the last ahead of Politologue
Nube Negra (left) jumps the last ahead of Politologue (Tim Goode/PA)

His trainer said: “I’m chuffed to bits for the horse. Some said he might have been lucky to be second in the Champion Chase, but I thought that was a strong race today.

“I know Put The Kettle On hasn’t turned up, but Politologue looked very fit and is a former champion. He went a hard gallop and kept going.

“I’m so proud of the horse. His owner Terry (Spraggett) has always wanted a good horse and now he’s got one.

“In novices you are always thinking ‘we’ll do this or that’ but this is the big league and I’m delighted.

“I’m sorry to beat John (Hales) and Paul (Nicholls) because Politologue has run his heart out and didn’t deserve to get beat, but it was a fair run from him and I’m chuffed to bits with Nube.

“It’s been an up and down few days, but whatever sport you are in it is about being professional, sometimes it rolls for you and sometimes it rolls against you. You have to learn from those situations and come out stronger. I’ve learned more this week than I ever have.

“I had a tingle in my hands when he jumped the last and I don’t think I’ve ever had that before.”

Harry Skelton celebrates
Harry Skelton celebrates (Tim Goode/PA)

He went on: “He’s very good fresh and we picked this race two or three weeks ago when it looked like the ground would be decent.

“He’s seven, he’s still improving and while I know it’s a strong division, I’m just delighted. I think he can go on to even more.

“Politologue has run his heart out, but sometimes you have to give way to younger legs and that is ultimately what has happened.

“It’s not about beating Paul, it’s about having those good horses on the good days and making it stick. Some haven’t recently, like Shan Blue and My Drogo, but you’ve got to land the odd big fish.

“I don’t know about the Tingle Creek. There’s an obvious route, but at the end of the day this is a big race so we’ll stay in the present.

“We’ll consider Sandown and obviously Kempton, because he’s so good there, but he’s going to come back here, isn’t he (in March).

“Some said last year because it was a slow-run race and he’s a fast horse he got lucky. I don’t think he did.

“He’s entitled to get stronger and stayed on well today. Shishkin is the same age. I also think ours handled the ground a bit better today. We won’t be shy of taking them all on anyway.”

His rider said: “That was absolutely brilliant. The horse deserves that, he knocked on the door in the Queen Mother and then was back here today.

“The ground was a bit dead for him I thought. Now that he’s getting a bit older, he’s staying a bit better and getting a bit stronger.

“It was a brilliant performance. He’s hitting the line hard now as a two-miler.

“Fair play to Dan, he’s looked after him. Terry has been a loyal supporter of the family for a long time, they deserve a good horse and they’ve got one.”

Nicholls felt the the ground was too lively for the runner up, saying: “Politologue could do with the ground a lot slower now just to suit him as he was flat out all the way round and was using a bit too much all the time to try to stretch them.

“The winner is seven and likes good ground so we’re at the other end of the scale, but I’d say there’s still a nice race in him somewhere on soft ground and we’ll find somewhere for him. He’s run a really good race.

“If the Tingle Creek came up testing in three weeks’ time, I would not be afraid to let him have a go at that, but if not we can wait and go to Kempton or that January race at Ascot – I’d say he’d be at his best now on slow ground where stamina is a bit more of an issue over two miles.”

Aidan Coleman was of a similar view regarding the ground for Put The Kettle On.

The rider said: “They just had too much speed for her.

“Usually on that ground they don’t come back and I finished with loads of mare. I wasn’t tired at the line, but in that ground they’ve gone quick and they just don’t stop. I was waiting for a collapse in the pace, but on good ground it’s not going to happen.

“She hit the line strong and there’s a lot of positives – it was just too dry for her I think.”

Arkle hope Third Time Lucki stays unbeaten over fences

Dan Skelton was able to breathe a sigh of relief having watched Third Time Lucki maintain his unbeaten record over fences in the From The Horse’s Mouth Podcast Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Sent off the 2-5 favourite, Skelton had seen classy stablemate My Drogo start at a similarly prohibitive price on Friday – only for him to slide to a halt and part company with Harry Skelton at the second-last.

There were no such worries this time, although Third Time Lucki was not quite as exuberant as he had been when winning on his chasing debut last month.

“Harry said he felt fantastic and that he’s a horse with a lot of natural pace,” said Skelton, whose charge was left at 11-1 with Betfair for the Arkle Trophy in March and cut to 8-1 from 10-1 by Coral.

“During my apprenticeship with Paul (Nicholls), Ruby (Walsh) always used to say there’s a difference between speed and pace and in a race pace is so important because you can go your speed very comfortably, which is what he can do.

“Going down the hill Harry started getting him under control, and then from three out to two out also. After the last he pricked his ears and got lonely, it was harder work today visually and while it is trainer chat he was actually fitter for the first day than today.

“I did a lot with him for the first day because I didn’t want to have him too fresh, so I pressed him a bit. I trusted him between then and now and I think he jumped the last and just had a blow.”

As for future plans, Skelton may now have a change of heart.

“Originally the plan was to go to the Henry VIII after this, but whether that will happen now, I don’t know. I need to talk to Mike (Newbould, owner). I could wait for Kempton, which I know is a Grade Two and Sandown a Grade One but the ground will have a big bearing – he won’t run on soft or heavy,” said Skelton.

“We could even wait for Doncaster (Lightning Novices’ Chase) and then come back here. Appreciate It is top of the (Arkle) market and we’ve got to see what he does. We want to go to the Arkle and hopefully it all works out.

“I was set in my mind to go Sandown and Warwick (Kingmaker) after today, but having watched that I just like the idea of him super fresh. I can do loads with him at home and the best route might be Kempton and then here. Maybe.”

Regarding My Drogo Skelton said: “He’s fine, he trotted up before he left here last night and trotted up at home this morning. He’s 100 per cent.

“When he skidded all his legs skidded in the right direction, no legs went under him or anything,

“I spoke to (owner) Brian Acheson this morning and his horse Gin On Lime is fine, too.

“It was an unusual experience, but everyone is all right so we go again. I don’t think Drogo lost anything in defeat or disaster, whatever it was, so we just move on.”

My Drogo all set for chasing bow – but only one rival at Cheltenham

My Drogo will face just one rival as he makes his chasing debut in the SSS Super Alloys Novices’ Chase on the first day of the November Meeting at Cheltenham on Friday.

The six-year-old was mightily impressive when last seen winning the Grade One Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in spring, a success that was his fourth in a row and maintained his unbeaten record over hurdles.

Now taking to fences for the first time in his career, the Dan Skelton-trained gelding has scared off all but one opponent and so will line up against only Henry de Bromhead’s Gin On Lime for the two-and-a-half-mile contest, after Gordon Elliott withdrew Fancy Foundations due to the ground.

“I feel that we have got to go chasing to make him the horse we think he is and he has always looked like a chaser,” Skelton said.

“He is probably the highest-rated horse we have had go novice chasing and the highest profile, but at the end of the day they are all equal at the start.

“He looks great and two and a half miles is a good starting point, so we will see where we are with him.”

Gin On Lime is a worthy rival, however, having won four of her seven runs over fences including the Grade Three Dundrum Novice Chase at Tipperary.

There is Grade Two hurdling action on the card with the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle set to be contested by seven runners.

Paul Nicholls’ Gelino Bello is highly fancied after winning by six lengths on his hurdling debut at Aintree on October 24.

“He is an exciting youngster who won impressively on his debut over hurdles at Aintree nineteen days ago when he stayed on strongly as he drew clear on the flat,” the trainer said in his Betfair blog.

“I don’t really like running good young prospects again so quickly and was tempted to wait another week or two with him, but Gelino Bello seems in top form at home, he will be fine on the ground and this race offers an ideal opportunity at this stage of his career.

“Hopefully it doesn’t come too soon for him.”

Another contender with a flawless hurdling record is Evan Williams’ Current Mood, who has struck twice over the smaller obstacles since arriving in Wales from Liam Kenny’s yard in Wexford.

“She’s had a great start to the season and if she could get a bit of black type that would be invaluable further down the line,” said Williams.

“She’s been absolutely fantastic, though those races (that she won) aren’t very deep, we’re not kidding ourselves. But she deserves to go and take her chance to try to find that little bit of black type.

“I’ve been very surprised by how well she’s taken to the good ground because she’s a big lump of a mare, but I’d say the good ground seems a big help to her.”

Blazing Khal is another runner in good form ahead of the race, with the five-year-old making a winning debut over timber at Galway in early October.

That run was on soft going and as Charles Byrnes’ charge has shown a preference for ease in the ground, any rain over the Cotswolds will be appreciated by his trainer.

“I’m just hoping for a nice run, it’s a big step up in quality and if the ground softened up a bit that would help our chances,” he said.

“He won on soft in Galway, he’s a stayer and softer ground would probably bring that out in him – he wouldn’t be the fastest.

“Any rain would be welcome, that’s the way it is with him.”

Skelton plays down championship talk as jumps season hits top gear

Dan Skelton insists being crowned champion trainer this season is not on his mind ahead of a huge weekend at Cheltenham.

The Warwickshire handler was second to his former mentor Paul Nicholls last term and is once again in the mix as he prepares a number of his stable stars to run across three days at Prestbury Park.

Likely runners for the team include Protektorat, who is among the market principals for the featured Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday.

Protektorat on his way to winning at Aintree in the spring
Protektorat on his way to winning at Aintree in the spring (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He is set to be joined by Third Time Lucki, who will be a short price to make it two from two over fences on Friday after making a huge impression at Cheltenham last month, and Grade One-winning hurdler My Drogo, who is due to debut over the larger obstacles the following afternoon.

Skelton admits he would love to be crowned champion one day, but he does not envisage it happening this term due to the firepower Nicholls has at his disposal.

Speaking on Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast, the trainer said: “I was chasing the title before I ever had my first runner really, because I’ve always wanted to do it.

“I don’t feel like this is the year. I genuinely feel like Paul has got the ace hand – massively.

“I’d love to be a challenger, but hand on heart, so much has to go in our favour – and realistically, things have to go against him, and they won’t because they’re too professional an outfit.

“Realistically, this year, I don’t think it’s a thing. I hope we finish second and that would show a bit of consistency after finishing second last year.

“This time next year it could be a different conversation, but I’m certainly not hung up on the trainers’ championship this year.”

Protektorat has Paddy Power Gold Cup in sights

Ante-post favourite Protektorat is reported to be firmly on course for the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

The six-year-old has illustrious connections, owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson together with John and Lisa Hales and Ged Mason – and trainer Dan Skelton could hardly be happier with his contender, who was a Grade One winner when last seen at the Aintree Grand National meeting.

He said: “He is a second-season chaser out of the novice ranks. Some can go and improve an awful lot, and others that is what they are and you have to rethink.

“We’ve had this race in mind ever since he came in. He has won around the track, it is worth a lot of money – and it seemed a good starting point.

“I’m not worried I’ve not got a run into him, because he has done loads at home and he has been on the grass gallop twice now, so I’m happy. I’m looking forward to it.”

He is also a course-and-distance winner, last November.

Skelton added: “That is why you look back at that novice chase last year and you think ‘well, he can act around the track’.

“I’m happy that he won’t sulk, because we have got him really well. I think that only happens when he runs on tacky ground where it was harder work than it needed to be. I’m happy, and he is ready for it.

“Whatever the weight is the weight is – you can’t change that, and I’m not worried about it.”

Third Time Lucki on his fencing bow at Cheltenham
Third Time Lucki on his fencing bow at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Third Time Lucki is also due for action on Saturday, after the smart novice hurdler made a winning start over fences at Cheltenham in October.

Skelton said: “Third Time Lucki will run on Saturday in the Arkle trial. His debut there was lovely, and I enjoyed that.

“He is a nice horse and he has always been one of our best horses. He has just needed a time, and a fence.”

Much attention on day one of Cheltenham’s fixture will focus on Skelton’s My Drogo, in the November Novices’ Chase on Friday.

The Richard and Lizzie Kelvin-Hughes-owned gelding looked a potential star in the making at Aintree in April after rounding off an unbeaten season with victory in the Grade One Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.

My Drogo is expected to reach the very top over fences
My Drogo is expected to reach the very top over fences (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Skelton said: “Everything has been good, and I’m happy with him.

“He started at Cheltenham last season in a bumper, and I’m happy to get going over fences there with him.

“He has been good schooling, but he has got to do it on the track. I don’t feel any extra pressure on my shoulders with him.”

Joining My Drogo on Friday duty could be stablemate and recent Carlisle scorer Kayf Hernando, in the Grade Two Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Skelton said: “If the ground is nice he will probably run, but he is not guaranteed to run. He beat a very experienced horse in Mister Whitaker last time, and they were clear of the third.

“It was a very taking performance for a young horse, and you are entitled to think big – at least for now.”

Nube Negra will bid to avenge his defeat to Put The Kettle On in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Festival in March when the two lock horns in the Grade Two Shloer Chase on Sunday.

Skelton said: “Nube Negra is going to run in the Shloer. The ground is nice, and he is in good form so the plan is to have a go.

“The last three weeks, he has been going well at home and is ready to go. He has been on the grass gallop once – and as long as the ground remains as it is, we will have a go, but if it all of a sudden goes soft we won’t go.”

Shan Blue ruled out until the spring following Wetherby fall

Shan Blue will be out of action until the spring following his heavy fall when clear in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday.

Trainer Dan Skelton had hoped his promising second-season chaser had escaped unscathed when he came down at the third last with the Grade Two race at his mercy.

However, on further inspection it has been discovered Shan Blue has stiffness in his neck and Skelton does not want to take any chances with the potentially top-class chaser.

In a video posted on Twitter, Skelton explained: “He was obviously going to win the Charlie Hall when he fell. We’ve given him a full check over and he is a bit stiff in his neck.

Shan Blue (left) was a Grade One winner at Kempton last year
Shan Blue (left) was a Grade One winner at Kempton last year (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Speaking to the vets and Colm (Donlon), his owner, we’ve decided we’re going to back off for a month completely to get all the soreness out of his neck.

“You can stroke him and pat him, he’s not horrendously sore, but he’s just a little bit sore to flex, so we’re going to give him the time that he needs.

“We’ll back off him completely for a month and restart. It does mean that he’ll miss the Ladbrokes Trophy and the King George, but he’s a young horse so we’ve got to do the right thing by him.”

He added: “He’s not an old horse and you can see him having a long career over fences and we want him to be 100 per cent right when we go, so we’ll back off him now and have him ready for the spring, Cheltenham and Aintree.

“Sometimes with horses, when you try to make things happen you are chasing and when you are chasing that is when results don’t go your way and things start to go against you.

“We don’t want to be in that position with any horse, but when you have a horse of this calibre you just cannot chase it, so we’ll give him the time he needs, get him 100 per cent right and you’ll see him in the spring.”

Skelton – Ladbrokes Trophy ‘massively tempting’ for Shan Blue

Dan Skelton admits he is “massively tempted” to head to next month’s Ladbrokes Trophy with Shan Blue.

The seven-year-old was a most unlucky loser in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase on Saturday – when he nonetheless signalled a big season is surely ahead after storming clear of his Grade Two rivals only to take a heavy fall when in a 20-length lead at the third-last.

The exact timing of Shan Blue’s unfortunate departure is highly significant – because he cannot go up in the handicap after an exit at that point, however clear it appeared that he was in control of the race.

For that reason, Skelton acknowledges he and owner Colm Donlon face a “big decision” over whether to take advantage of his unchanged rating of 148 in one of the most famous jumps races in the calendar, on November 27.

Skelton has yet to win the Newbury showpiece – and asked about the chances of trying to do so with Shan Blue, he said: “It’s massively tempting.

“I don’t think the trip is an issue; Newbury as a track is not an issue.

“I’d prefer it to be 10 runners, not 20, but that’s not the Ladbrokes.

“It’s one of the biggies in the calendar, and you sometimes only get one chance in a career to win a race like that – and it’s staring us quite obviously in the face, off 148.

“So you’ve got to take it very, very seriously.”

The Alcester trainer has already chatted to Donlon about the prospect – at Wetherby, as soon as it was confirmed Shan Blue was unscathed following his mishap.

“I had half a discussion with Colm about it yesterday, and we’re both talking about it very professionally and giving it the time of day that it deserves,” Skelton told Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme.

“Ultimately, we’ve got a big decision to make. If he’d fallen two out, it’s taken out of the equation … (so) you’ve kind of got to make the decision (now), it’s not been made for you.”

Whether Shan Blue’s next assignment is in handicap company, or Kempton’s King George VI Chase – where he would surely be directly headed if he had stayed on his feet in the Charlie Hall – Skelton is confident major prizes should still lie ahead.

“I think we can all agree we’ve seen something a bit special there, and there are big days to come with him,” he added.

“He’s got the constitution, physical and mental to get over something like this.

“The most important thing is soundness, and he was sound immediately afterwards yesterday – (and) he’s sound this morning.

“We consider ourselves very, very lucky that he is.

“I don’t think there’s going to be an emotional scar here (for the horse). I can’t guarantee it – I can only talk on his behalf the best I know him. He can’t directly tell me there’s not a problem, but I’d be surprised.

“He’s one of the many horses I could say ‘they’re tough enough to bounce back’.”

Molly Ollys Wishes claims stylish success on Wetherby return

Molly Ollys Wishes stamped her class on what looked a decent field in the bet365 Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby.

Dan and Harry Skelton have enjoyed a good start to the season and this seven-year-old looks like having another good campaign.

A Listed winner last term, trainer Dan Skelton had entered her in the West Yorkshire Hurdle on the same card to take what he termed “the Roksana route”, after the recently retired top-class mare Skelton trained to win that race last season.

However, Skelton ultimately preferred to keep Molly Ollys Wishes to her own sex, even though the trip may have been short of her best, and with that in mind Harry Skelton kicked on before the turn for home.

In truth the race was soon over, with the 3-1 favourite coming home five and a half lengths clear of Miranda.

“That was brilliant, magic really. I just thought we’d try her over two (miles) because when I looked at the entries on Monday and saw that the West Yorkshire hurdle was filling up, I just thought she was going to have a really hard race on her first time out,” said Dan Skelton.

“She’s best just rolling on over two, you can get in a bit of a muddle when you try to restrict her. It just worked out really well, Harry’s given her a great ride.

“She was always going to Kempton on the 22nd for the Listed over three (miles), I don’t see any reason to change.

“We’ve always hoped she could go down the Roksana route, last year it actually suited her that Roksana was around because it was a year too soon and we couldn’t send her down it. She’s now ready for it.

“I can imagine her going to Kempton, we might try the Long Walk and then the Warfield at a Ascot. That’s her Gold Cup.”

Geryville absolutely bolted up on his British debut for Micky Hammond in the bet365 Handicap Chase.

Only five, he was dismissed in the betting and sent off a 40-1 chance in a field of 11.

He jumped like an old hand throughout for Alain Cawley, and scooted clear to win by 12 lengths.

“We’ve always liked him. Peter Jones, who sent him over from France, said he was a nice horse. He came over in June and we thought he’d do well over here,” said Hammond.

“We were hoping he’d run a nice race, the ground has been so firm that we haven’t even schooled him over a fence, but he’s jumped a French-style hurdle on a surface and he’s taken to it very well. He jumped a bit big early on but he can win again.”

Skelton hoping to follow Shan Blue route with Ashtown Lad

Champion jockey Harry Skelton wasted no time adding to his 1,000 winners as he doubled up on his next two rides at Wetherby – courtesy of Ashtown Lad and Unexpected Party.

Skelton reached his four-figure career milestone at Stratford on Thursday, and projected then that he would be getting started on his second thousand as soon as possible.

True to his word, less than 24 hours later, he struck first in division one of the bet365 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle and then in the bet365 Novices’ Chase, both for his brother Dan.

Ashtown Lad was following the example of the yard’s subsequent Grade One winner Shan Blue, who had won the same race last year.

In the absence of the highly-regarded Ahoy Senor, the field was reduced to four – and Skelton had the 6-4 winner in front and jumping well throughout.

Ashtown Lad was always moving more fluently at and between the fences than odds-on favourite and eventual third Barbados Buck’s, on the way to a decisive near five-length success from Buzz De Turcoing.

The winning trainer is already plotting future targets – with Kempton’s Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, also won by Shan Blue last season, perhaps on the agenda.

“He jumped lovely – the more jumps there are and the further he can go, the better,” he said.

“You can see why I waited until he was seven to go chasing – he needed a lot of time to get it all together. Marathon trips will be perfect for him next year.

“We always knew that he would be a three-mile chaser, and we’re delighted with him. That experience will do him the world of good – that was the first time he’s jumped fences on grass.

Unexpected Party and Harry Skelton won division one of the bet365 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Wetherby
Unexpected Party and Harry Skelton won division one of the bet365 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Wetherby (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“I was always half in my mind thinking of the Shan Blue route. Me, Harry and (owner) Darren (Yates) had half made that plan, and I don’t see any real reason to back out at the moment.”

Unexpected Party also won in the style of a promising horse as he justified favouritism at 11-8, on just his third career start.

Skelton has a high opinion of the six-year-old grey, but explained he has not been easy to train.

“He’s a horse that’s always shown ability – it’s very frustrating that it’s taken as long as it has,” he said.

“He was a very fragile horse when he was younger.

“At Bangor (first time out last month), he must have been as fit as I was – because I thought he’d run all right, and he clearly blew up!

“The step up in trip is a big help. I think the race has fallen apart…there’s only two horses have gone away from the field, turning in. But you can’t do more than what he’s done.

“Two years ago, when he was a store horse, he looked like he might be really handy. But things haven’t quite gone his way (since) – maybe that’s the start of something more.”

The Cash Out At bet365 Handicap Chase was one of two Listed features on day one of the track’s Charlie Hall meeting, with Good Boy Bobby a determined winner under Daryl Jacob for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Wearing the all-green silks of Jacob’s retained owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, Good Boy Bobby was returning to winning form after seven efforts over fences and hurdles which have yielded a string of placings since his last success 12 months ago.

The eight-year-old was prominent throughout, as he often is, and saw off his rivals one by one to win by a length and a half as the 5-2 favourite, from the staying-on Cracking Destiny.

Jacob said: “He was very good today – Nigel and his team have done a great job with him  over the summer.

“Since he’s come back in, he’s been big and bold and fresh.

“I suppose he disappointed us an awful lot last year – but it’s nice that he’s come out and won a really nice competitive pot like that.

Good Boy Bobby and Daryl Jacob lead the way winning in the Cash Out At bet365 Handicap Chase at Wetherby
Good Boy Bobby and Daryl Jacob lead the way winning in the Cash Out At bet365 Handicap Chase at Wetherby (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“Last year, I thought his second behind Master Tommytucker (at Haydock) would lead on to a really good year – but he lost his form and confidence a bit.”

Harbour Lake made a winning debut in the closing bet365 Novices’ Hurdle, scoring in the famous colours of the late Trevor Hemmings.

Alan King’s five-year-old is just the second horse to win in the hugely successful yellow, green and white, since Hemmings died earlier this month.

Harbour Lake belied his 9-1 starting price with a stylish performance under Tom Cannon to prevail by almost five lengths from Guardino, and racing manager Mick Meagher was impressed.

He said: “We thought he was a nice horse last year. But he had a little setback, and we ended up never running him after being bought for point-to-pointing.

“Kingy’s liked him from day one. If we’d finished in the first four or five today we’d have been happy – but he’s beaten the right three, up there in the betting that finished behind him.”